When Should Humanists Oppose Abortion? When Scientology Forces It on Church Members

With reproductive rights constantly under attack in the United States, humanists spend a significant amount of time and effort defending abortion access, whether through volunteering and donating to pro-choice organizations or by explaining to friends and family why abortion is a valid and moral decision. However, in defending women’s right to reproductive freedom, humanists should also remember that the right to have a child is just as important as the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. While instances in which humanists, feminists, and other pro-choice advocates must defend women’s right to carry a wanted pregnancy from religious organizations may seem rare, we must be prepared to speak out against these situations if we truly care about women’s right to bodily autonomy under all circumstances.

Recently, an instance of a religious organization pressuring women to have abortions has come into the spotlight through a lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology. The lawsuit was filed by Laura Crescenzo, a former Scientologist and member of the Sea Org. The Sea Org is an organization made up of Scientology’s most committed members, often children of Scientologists, who are employed by the church and exploited as employees through withheld wages, long working hours, and threats of being ostracized for leaving. Sea Org members are forbidden from having children, and those who become pregnant are coerced into having abortions, despite the official Church of Scientology’s stance that abortions are “traumatic physically and spiritually to an unborn child.” (The trauma an abortion may cause to the mother is mentioned almost as an afterthought.) After being forced to terminate her pregnancy and enduring even more abuse, Crescenzo spent years seeking justice from Scientology.

Scientology is not the only church that has demonstrated a total disregard for women’s reproductive freedom and blatant hypocrisy concerning what it teaches and what it actually does. A couple years ago, two children discovered babies’ bones around the former site of an Irish home run by Catholic nuns that housed unwed mothers. Investigators are still searching for over 700 bodies of babies, many of them newborns, which were buried by the nuns. The Bon Secours sisters, who ran the facility until the 1960s, have since been found to abuse the young mothers and neglect the children who were meant to be in their care. The children at the home who survived past infancy were reported to be malnourished, sickly, and unused to being held. The young mothers in the home frequently had their children taken from them and put up for adoption without their consent. Despite its self-righteous rhetoric about the “sanctity of life” and its handwringing over the lives of children, the Catholic Church’s abysmal record on caring for those children and their mothers does not even begin to reflect the values it claims to uphold.

Not all religious traditions, of course, insist on mandating what women should do with their own bodies if they become pregnant. Reform Judaism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, many Wiccan and Pagan traditions, the Satanic Temple, and Unitarian Universalists, among others, affirm women’s right to have autonomy over their bodies. At the very least, these faiths regard abortion as a private decision that a woman must make for herself and they do not attempt to meddle with laws that ensure abortion access. What these faiths also hold in common is they also do not mandate that women must have abortions to continue serving in the church and they also offer affirmation for women who wish to continue their pregnancies and raise their children.

Though the humanist movement often finds itself defending abortion because of the frequent attacks against it lobbed by the religious right, the humanist movement ultimately stands for full bodily autonomy for women. Access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion is part of that bodily autonomy, but so is the right of women to have children and raise them in a society that will care for them. To stand for reproductive justice, humanists must also fight for the right of women to have children if they want them and to be able to bring them into a world where they have access to nourishment, healthcare, and an education.

Being truly pro-choice means supporting all of the reproductive choices that a woman may make, and both abortion and keeping the pregnancy are part of the range of choices. Just as the humanist movement criticizes Catholics and evangelical Christians when they codify their religious beliefs into law, we should also criticize the Church of Scientology for coercing its members into having abortions against their will. And we should stand with other organizations, both religious and secular, that fight for women’s reproductive freedoms.

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  • psrieth

    Well I certainly support the direction this article is thinking in. Always sad to hear of yet more Catholic wrongdoing, but I certainly agree – as a Catholic – that “humanists must also fight for the right of women to have children if they want them and to be able to bring them into a world where they have access to nourishment, healthcare, and an education.”

    Many on the religious right are enthusiastic about women having children but not about helping women who have children. I am always pleased when the debate shifts from abortion to how to help women with children. This is urgent now when war and poverty ravage so much of the world.

    If all people of good will could focus on this, I think we would all be better off.

  • Free Minds, Free Hearts

    I am in favor of women’s reproductive freedom, which means choosing abortion if needed. But I think most of us who are pro-choice would agree that it is much better to prevent the unwanted pregnancy in the first place. “Make abortion safe, legal, and rare.”

    Reproductive freedom also means choosing to give birth if she wants to. And to coerce a 17-year old who wants to have the baby into having an abortion because otherwise they will kick her out of Scientology and she will be disconnected, never see her husband or parents again, be homeless and jobless, and lose her eternal salvation – that is unconscionable.

    Laura DeCresenzo joined up at age 12, worked 98 to 112 hours a week, didn’t see her parents for years because she had no time off, got married, pregnant, a coerced abortion at age 17, then got locked in the Scientology prison gulag for years and finally escaped in 2004 by drinking bleach. My God! if you pardon my language.

    She filed this lawsuit in 2009. Scientology is spending a lot of its tax exempt/tax subsidized funds on lawyers including to stop her lawsuit, prevent her from seeing the files they kept on her, claiming this was all her choice. It was not.

    • Frodis73

      Great post!

  • Frodis73

    Thank you for bringing more media attn to this case…I cannot believe the mainstream media has not picked this up tbh. For those of you just learning about this keep in mind Laura is only one person…this was how scientology did things for YEARS. There are hundreds of women out there, who have left the church and spoken out, that have had multiple abortions while part of the Sea Org.

  • Sally Strange

    I think everyone would be better off if such issues were framed as “opposing the infringement of bodily autonomy” rather than “opposing/supporting abortion.”
    Forced abortions are just as bad as forced births, from the perspective of the person capable of gestating fetuses. Once this framework is more widely understood, the conflict between being pro-choice and either supporting chosen pregnancy or opposing forced abortion will not be so confusing to so many people.

    • jr

      Doesn’t the term “pro-choice” cover it?

  • Robert Haile

    Scientology is not a religion but a warped interpretation of fiction with cult like behaviour.